Tax credit clouds Kansas Senate school bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Critics of a proposal to give a property tax credit to parents of students attending private schools in Kansas questioned Wednesday whether the provision would be legal and if it treats all taxpayers equal.

Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, said Wednesday that the idea was to help defray the costs to parents who choose to send their children to nonpublic schools. Parents would get a credit equal to the cost of tuition, fees or other expenses deducted from their school property taxes every year.

“This is not a voucher,” he said. “And we put a limit on it.”

The proposal was added to the Senate’s school funding bill, which would spend $129 million to satisfy a March 1 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The order found the state’s funding formula was unconstitutional as it relates to two funds aimed at equalizing spending for poor school districts.

To qualify for the tax credit, parents would have to have their children enrolled in qualifying private schools and submit their expenses to the county treasurer for verification. Parents could get up to $1,000 per student and $2,500 per household in tax credits that would be applied to what they owe every six months to fund local school districts. The credit could not be carried forward to apply against future tax liabilities.

About 30,000 Kansas students are enrolled in private schools, not counting those who are homeschooled.

“We’re trying to keep it as simple as possible,” Pyle said. “Folks who are enrolling their kids in private schools and 100 percent of the cost will be able to have their taxes reduced. It’s about fairness.”

Critics point out that taxpayers also pay for other private services that are also offered by government, including trash collection and recreational facilities.

“I think this is just a bad precedent for us,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, ranking Democrat from Topeka on the Senate budget committee.

Kelly said it’s unfair to target a benefit for people who made the choice not to send their students to public schools. She said that leaves the rest of the public to carry the burden of paying for public education, a service typically as beneficial to the public good.

“Where does it stop?” she said.

Where it ends may be the Senate floor when the bill is debated, said Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce.

The Nickerson Republican said there were a lot of questions about the legality of the proposal and whether the state or local schools would be on the hook to pay parents the refunds.

“I have a lot of questions, as do others, about the fiscal impact,” Bruce said. “Our first priority is to get a workable product in negotiations with the House. I don’t know that this is part of it or not.”

Pyle said he relied on a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Arizona tax case that suggested that such refunds were legal because the money was going back to the parents and not being spent by the government on religious schools.

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